Reality is the playground of the unimaginative
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Sunday, 28 February 2010

DVD Of The Week: Jennifer's Body (2009)

Remember that visceral feel of tingly excitement you felt the first time you watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II?

Prepare to feel it again (although maybe not for quite so long).

Jennifer's Body isn't quite in those leagues but is still a meaty, thrilling, monster-stalking-teens horror flick... that just happens to star two of the hottest babes in Hollywood: Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried.

The story opens with Needy (Seyfriend) in a mental institution then flashes back to explain how she got there.

Needy and Jennifer (Fox) are BFFs, friends since childhood, in a small town called Devil's Kettle - named for a nearby waterfall and its freaky sinkhole (a wonderful detail that makes for a great red herring).

Head cheerleader Jennifer is a typical gorgeous, ditzy teen, always thinking about boys, while Needy is a more normal, average, homely girl with a pleasant boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) - until the girls go to the community's one, out-of-town, bar to see a visiting big city band play.

A fire breaks out at the dive, killing several people, and in the confusion Jennifer leaves with the band... only to show up hours later at Needy's home, looking like death... and spewing up disgusting, tarry bile over the lino.

Jennifer is no longer the girl that Needy grew up with, but a flesh-eating demon (possibly a succubus) after the band tried to sacrifice her to Satan to ensure they had a successful career. Unfortunately the ceremony required a virgin and that's one thing Jennifer wasn't!

And to maintain her good looks, Jennifer now needs to feed...

Writer Diablo Cody clearly has an ear for the Joss Whedonesque teen banter and there's a lot of a very dark humour at work here that, with the overall Buffy The Vampire Slayer vibe of the piece, made it compelling viewing in my book.

About two-thirds the way through, my sixth sense started trying to tell me that there was "something else" going on here and while some of the clues suggested a Fight Club-style twist might be on the cards; ultimately I was quite relieved to be proved wrong.

What seems odd though is there are several rather hurried segues between scenes that, upon further exploration of the DVD, are covered in the "deleted scenes" (particularly from Chip and Needy's tussle with Jennifer in the abandoned swimming pool to Needy's attack on Jen in her bedroom). As it stands the movie is only just over an hour-and-half long and it could easily have absorbed a lot of these cut moments back into its flow.

There's also a couple of sequences of heavy info dumping when (a) Jennifer is recounting what happened to her when she went away with the band and (b) when Needy is researching what has happened to Jennifer. I realise both, and especially the latter, are slightly tongue-in-cheek - as highlighted by Chip's comment: "Our library has an occult section?", but it isn't quite as subtle as maybe Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama were hoping.

Perhaps I was paying too much attention - because I was enjoying it so - but some of the more mysterious aspects of the story, like the wild animals flocking round Jennifer when she is about to kill someone and Needy's almost physic connection with, and vivid daydreams about, the demon are thrown out there but never really fully explored or explained.

Ultimately, Jennifer's Body is a flawed masterpiece. It could have been a horror movie of legendary status because it's heaving with good ideas, but somewhere along the line those ideas got either partially diluted or exorcised completely.

Its failure at the box office wasn't helped by some dreadful miss-selling and the complicit, lazy media who accepted the PR spin that this was some Megan Fox vehicle in an American Pie (with lashings of blood) style vein. It's so much more than that, but unfortunately the movie's strange idiosyncrasies meant it wasn't strong enough to overcome the crass publicity campaign that 20th Century Fox had attached to it.

It would be nice to think there's a more complete "director's cut" lurking out there somewhere that more closely resembles the writer and director's original vision for this movie, but I fear that's an empty dream.

Nevertheless, Jennifer's Body is still a fine piece of gore-splattered, Buffy-style entertainment that's over too quickly and certainly leaves you with a desire to revisit Devil's Kettle sometime soon.

HeroPress Picture Parade (February)

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Thundarr The Barbarian: Secret of the Black Pearl...




Post-apocalyptic zaniness from '80s Saturday morning kids cartoon Thundarr The Barbarian. Two thousand years after an extinction-level event destroyed life on Earth a new world has arisen combining magic and super science.

Created by one of the sharpest minds in comics, the late great Steve Gerber, mastermind of the satirical Howard The Duck, with design work by comic book legends Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, Thundarr was clearly influenced by Star Wars (check out Thundarr's "lightsabre" aka The Sunsword) and Kirby's own Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth.

Sounds like the perfect environment for a gonzo Dungeons & Dragons-style campaign and it just so happens that Sniderman of the Savage AfterWorld blog has created an excellent, free Mutant Future supplement based on this cartoon series (see the link in the right hand column of his blog; click on it to download the pdf).

There's also Under The Broken Moon, a free RPG based on the Over The Edge mechanics, which has statistics for the main three characters and lots of nice detail on the world as well as five episode breakdowns including creature statistics, magic spells and items .

Ladies & Gentleman, With Great Power Comes...

I'm delighted to be able to continue to welcome new recruits to the HeroPress superteam, and am now starting to wonder how long it'll be before we hit the magic "100".

I hope you all embrace the eclectic nature of HeroPress and feel inclined to post comments as and when you see fit.

The latest members of our elite troupe are:

* Jam of Hopeful Pessimism.

* Flick (a Doctor Who fan).

* RJK (aka Robert J Kuntz) of Lord Of The Green Dragons.

* Ken Hart of The House On Haunted Melrose Place.

* Michael P. O'Sullivan of fullmotor.net

Friday, 26 February 2010

From The File Marked 'Strange'...

Where to begin?

1968's The Lost Continent is a lesser known Hammer film that starts with a quite straight-forward disaster movie premise of an eclectic bunch of strangers - with shady pasts - seeking passage on an equally shady cargo ship (complete with a ruthless, no nonsense captain and an illegal stash of unstable explosive chemicals in its hold).

Things start to go wrong quite quickly as a hull breach leads to a mutiny and the remaining crew and civilians are forced into a lifeboat.

Drifting away from major shipping lanes, they eventually reunite with their ship but it is now entangled in a strange bed of floating seaweed. But not any old seaweed... this is man-eating seaweed.

And that's when things start to get very strange as the ship is pulled by the drifting weed to a graveyard of rotting hulks and small rocky islands in the middle of the Sargasso Sea.

This "Lost Continent" is populated by the descendants of other crews that have become marooned there, including a group of Spanish conquistadors led by a child-king and his Inquisitor adviser.

And let's not forget the various giant molluscs and scorpions, and the mutant octopus, that live in and around the islands and prey on the humans - all delivered with a '60s Doctor Who level of special effects.

Through an odd twist of timing and pacing, all this good, pulpy stuff is condensed into the last 25 minutes or so, but while the resolution of the conflict between the two major factions on The Lost Continent is tied up quite hastily, it also maintains its own sense of heightened logic.

In some, very loose, ways it bears similarities to the television series Lost, in that we get a lot of back story on certain characters that doesn't always directly influence the story of this mysteriously place where they are all stranded, while other characters drift in and out of the background.

The great actor Eric Porter is a powerful force as the rugged Captain Lansen, making that 'last desperate voyage' before he sells up and retires and the assorted supporting cast includes controversial German actress/singer/author Hildegard Knef and the well-endowed Dana Gillespie, who would later set pulses racing as the leather-clad Ajor in another 'lost world' classic The People That Time Forgot.

All the the ensemble cast are so into their roles that even before the weird stuff starts happening, The Lost Continent is a thoroughly absorbing film - although I did find myself, as the plot headed towards the 50 minute mark, wondering how they were going to squeeze all the story in to the film's 84-minute duration.

As you may have gathered already, The Lost Continent is a very weird film - not based on the little-known Edgar Rice Burroughs' book of the same name as I first thought but on Dennis Wheatley's non-horror title Uncharted Seas - as it spends a long time building the characters and tension in a quite realistic fashion, then goes totally mental for the final third of the movie by dropping them into a strange and surreal experience, totally out of the blue, that they try to escape from as soon as possible.

You have to love the fact that no-one questions what's going on (animated seaweed climbing through cabin portholes... happens every day, old chap), they just accept it and get on with the business at hand.

The Lost Continent is definitely an acquired taste because of its lop-sided script structure and (by today's standards) bargain basement effects, but it's never less then engrossing and is visually very ambitious and inspirational for those who like this kind of lost world scenario.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Top Of The Pile: Justice League Of America #42

Now this is more like it! After a long time, a Justice League adventure finally feels like a Justice League adventure - multiple heroes tackling multiple high-powered villains on a global stage.

In this post-Cry For Justice, post-Blackest Night world (which, unsurprisingly, doesn't appear at first glance to be that different than the world before), James Robinson brings out many of the big guns we expect in the JLA, namely Batman, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Green Arrow, The Atom etc as well as some welcome additions in the shape of ex-Titans Donna Troy, Cyborg and Starfire.

This is exactly what we've been waiting months to see - a large team of interesting characters tackling scenarios that they wouldn't do individually.

This story, Team History, appears to revolve around an alien device uncovered by the Challengers Of The Unknown and handed over to STAR Labs.

And also it looks as though some iteration of the New Gods are involved (although certainly not the ones we saw die before the Final Crisis event) - which again raises the stakes into true JLA territory.

It's just a shame that this is telling a tale set after events (ie Blackest Night and Cry For Justice) that we haven't actually seen the resolution of, although Superman and Wonder Woman are noticeable by their absence so still no clues as to the outcome of their particular plots.

Robinson has a good ear for the heroic banter and Mark Bagley's pencils are always a joy to see. Looks like the Justice League is, if not back where it belongs, at least heading in the right direction again.

Supernatural: The End

After last weeks hijinks, Sam decides to give Dean a call and see about meeting up again, but Dean is still determined that they are better off apart.

While waiting for a rendezvous with Castiel, Dean falls asleep in a motel and wakes up five years later to discover he slept through the Apocalypse - thanks to Zachariah's (Kurt Fuller) determination to show Dean the consequences of his continued refusal to allow Michael to use his body as his vessel for smiting Satan.

In this post-apocalyptic future, the Croatoan virus has run rampant, reducing vast swathes of the populace to rage-fueled zombies. Dean soon tracks down a group of survivors that includes Chuck the Prophet; a drugged-up, hippie incarnation of Castiel; and himself - five years older and a cold-hearted sonovabitch to boot.

However, the most terrifying aspect of this twisted future is the fact that Sarah Palin is the President Of The United States... no wonder all the angels have give up and gone home!

Future Dean secures the legendary Colt and heads off to face down Lucifer, taking other Dean along for the ride, but the Lightbringer has a new meat-suit... Sam!

I'd been looking forward to this episode since last week, knowing it featured Croatoan rage zombies and time travel to a post-apocalyptic future, but something about The End didn't quite gel.

While the dead-pan comedy moments come from Castiel as usual and Jensen Ackles does a great job of pretty much carrying the episode as both modern-Dean and future-Dean, but I guess the problem came from the fact that there were no surprises.

For one thing Zachariah told Dean from the get-go that this was all to 'teach him a lesson' for playing hardball and as it was set-out as a doomsday scenario it didn't come as much of a shock to discover that Sam - distanced from Dean for so long - had finally given in and allowed Lucifer to take control of his body.

And while the Croatoans are talked about a lot, except for Dean's first encounter with them, they don't actually show up for the rest of the story and, as a lot of it takes place at the survivors' wilderness camp, there isn't much of a reminder that the rest of the world is an urban wasteland.

Even Jared Padalecki's turn as The Devil at the climax of the story was slightly underwhelming. The End had a lot of potential to be a crucial turning point in the Winchesters' story - and while it inescapably spelled out the folly of the brothers trying to go their separate ways - it rather failed to live up to its dramatic potential.

Next week: Fallen Idols (with Paris Hilton, who, of course, appeared in the pretty lame 2005 remake of The House Of Wax with Jared Padalecki!)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Hope To Hear From You Again, Echo!

Joss Whedon's ill-fated Dollhouse came to its explosive conclusion on British TV last night - and it was only in those last few hours that I came to fully realise the brilliance and potential of this unfortunate show.

During Dollhouse's troubled two season run I'll confess I wasn't always the loyalest of fans. As I've said before I hadn't even originally planned to watch it and only started on a whim.

Like many genre shows it was touted as something it wasn't to try and lure in "civilians" and grab the biggest ratings, therefore managing to alienate both the geeks the show was truly aimed at and the general public who tuned in to watch a kind of easy-going spy thriller and instead got Dollhouse, with all its faults and brilliance.

But I was hooked by that first episode and although the next few weren't the best I was glad I stuck around for the end of the season.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, although the game had changed by the conclusion of that season, and we'd had a glimpse into the future with Epitaph One, Season Two - despite some changes to the power-structure - appeared to revert to the "identity-of-the-week" syndrome.

And I'm sorry to say I lost interest quite rapidly and stopped watching for several weeks, only resuming when I learned the show had been axed and the Internet buzz began that the show was suddenly, now with a definite end in sight, getting really good.

For once, the Internet buzz got it right!

Now Eliza Dushku's Echo/Caroline was front-and-centre as the strong protagonist, with her ability to retain all the personalities she'd been imprinted with, and the season had a powerful, focused goal: bring down the big, bad corporation which'd been brainwashing people, before the technology got out of hand.

Of course, we'd seen Epitaph One and knew the technology did get out of control, thanks to a portable projector invented by Topher (Fran Kranz), allowing mass-imprinting on a global scale. Topher's journey from jovially sinister to totally broken man and ultimately the saviour of the world was one of the finest story arcs in the series.

By the time we reached Epitaph Two: Return everything had come to a head and we were back in the post-thoughtpocalypse (as Topher called it) 2020, with violent, mindless zombies running amok and Echo's freedom fighters struggling to stay alive.

I could have quite happily sat through a season long run of stories set in this future, as there were clearly many stories left untold (for instance, the transition of Alpha - the ever-excellent Alan Tudyck - from suave psychopath to 'reformed' guardian of the dolls), and I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales anyway.

The main dolls were no longer the blank slates that had made any deep empathy so difficult in the early stages of the story and the mystery of "who was running everything" was a great raison d'etre to keep the action rolling on.

At least Dollhouse got a proper wrap-up, unlike Firefly, and it made me wonder if actually the whole two-year story could have perhaps been condensed into a single six-part (or so) mini-series with just the same emotional impact.

After a couple of 'identity-of-the-week' stories we got the idea of how the technology worked and the various Dollhouses operated, then we could have moved straight into the "bring down Rossum" plot.

Okay, so six episodes might have been a bit tricky to tell the whole tale, but a tight single 13-part season could have wrapped everything up neatly without the viewer-alienating troughs that both Season One and Season Two suffered in reality.

Let's hope "the curse of Buffy" doesn't follow the Dollhouse stars as they now head to other projects, for instance I have high hopes for Tahmoh Penikett's Riverworld - and could earn him a new series - and Alan Tudyk's Tucker & Dale Vs Evil looks brilliant.

And it doesn't look like any of them are letting the grass grow under their feet.

Of course, several other Whedonverse alumni, including Dollhouse's Fran Kranz and Amy Acker, as well as the great Tom Lenk, are turning up in Joss Whedon's supposedly genre-subverting The Cabin The Woods.

Meanwhile, Felicia Day is busy with The Guild and generally being a geek goddess to the entire Interwebz and I look forward to the day when the other stars of Dollhouse become regular fixtures in movies and television shows, perhaps encouraging some more retrospective love and consideration for the original show.

Visualising The Reading List...

Over the past few years I've tried - with varying degrees of success - to create a reading list for myself and stick to it.

My latest attempt to corral my thoughts about what I am reading, and what's next, has been boosted my Rachel's father building me this bedside bookshelf unit...

The top shelf is books which are currently in the running to be read, and basically break down into three genres - post-apocalyptic, sword and sorcery/planetary romance or superheroes.

The bottom shelf is unread graphic novels and comics, of which the comics are a mixture of my current pull list and (almost random) back issues that have been culled from shops or eBay.

Books on my 'reading list' at the moment for this Spring/Summer include:

* Wasteland - a collection of post-apocalyptic short stories.
* The Lost Continent/The Gods Of Mars - Edgar Rice Burrough
* Boneshaker - Cherie Priest (I was reading this a little while ago, but then got distracted by comics and so thought I'd put it aside for a while then revisit it with fresh eyes.)
* Almuric - Robert E Howard
* The Swordsman Of Mars - Otis Adelbert Kline
* Hello America - JG Ballard
* Werenight - Eric Iverson (aka Harry Turtledove)
* Stormbringer/Elric At The End Of Time/Jewel In The Skull/The War Lord Of The Air - Michael Moorcock
* JLA: Exterminators - Christopher Golden
* The Flash: Stop Motion - Mark Schultz
* Superman: The Never-Ending Battle - Roger Stern
* The Last Days Of Krypton - Kevin J Anderson
* Ariel - Steven R Boyett
* Memories Of The Future (Volume One) - Wil Wheaton
* Achtung Schweinehund! - Harry Pearson.

Of course all this will be put aside come April and the publication of A Web Of Air, the next Mortal Engines book from Philip Reeve.

Outside of this particular book, I'm trying - but not doing particularly well - to stick to a "no new books" policy, as advocated by Paul Magrs, (naturally, this doesn't include graphic novels) to allow myself some breathing space to actually make a dent in my library of unread books already filling the shelves of the gamesroom upstairs.

Having the constant reminder by my bed of 'what remains unread' is a good aide memoire when I'm casually browsing Amazon on my iPod Touch to think twice before letting anything else slide casually into my shopping basket.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Last Chance To Vote For "Island, Alone"!

Don't forget voting closes for Island, Alone on Zuda this Thursday.

So get your votes in now if you want to find out what happens next in this thrilling Lovecraftian/Victorian 'Boys Own' adventure yarn!

If Island, Alone gets the most votes in this competition, creators Shawn Aldridge and Rich Fuscia earn themselves a 12-month contract to tell the rest of the story on the DC Comics website.

Remember, you have to register to be able to vote, but registration is spam-free.

Bottom Of The Pile: The Stand - Soul Survivors #4

I haven't run a "Bottom Of The Pile" column for quite some time, because, speaking generally, I've got my pull-list down to titles that I'm reading because I want to, rather than out of any misguided loyalty.

Which is why Soul Survivors issue 4, of the current five-part story arc of Marvel's adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand, was such a shock and major disappointment (given how frequently the overall series has appeared in my Top Of The Pile selections).

Almost the entire issue is devoted to the saga's single most boring character, Mother Abigail, whose only interesting trait is the fact that she - for some reason - is a focus of the dreams and visions of those people chosen by the side of Good.

So why is she so important? After reading issue four I still have no idea - instead we are treated to many, many pages of absolutely nothing happening.

We get Mother Abigail's clichéd backstory and we get to follow her to her outside toilet for her daily bowel movement (BM, as she calls it), and then she walks to the neighbouring farm to kill some chickens, then wanders back.

Sure, she has a nightmare about Walkin' Dude, the Big Bad of The Stand, but who hasn't in this story? And she gets hassled by a gaggle of giant weasels during her tedious walk - but she gets all uppity with them and they just run away.

The whole issue is utterly, utterly pointless. Her connection with God and her importance in the scheme of events to come isn't even touched upon and we are left none the wiser as to why all the "good guys" are being directed to her farm.

I wasn't expecting to have all her secrets set out on a plate for me, because it's only her mystery that makes her - and her saccharine homely wisdom - passingly bearable in this tale. But we get nothing, nada, zip.

For those watching their budgets, this issue can easily be avoided and it wouldn't make a jot of difference to the story.

If this had been any other title I'd seriously be thinking about dropping it like a hot potato after this waste of paper - no matter how wonderfully drawn by Mike Perkins it was - but I have a rough idea, from the TV mini-series rather than the book, of where the story is going so I can overlook this one blip. But please, let it be just one!

Spellfury - Episode Eight...


The latest brilliant - but all too brief - episode of Travis Gordon's Spellfury, following the escapades of elf maiden Druinia (Julie O'Halloran) and her stolen magical sword.

Earlier episodes of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired adventure can be found here and here.

The Old Town Vs Country Debate...

Last Saturday the annual model railway exhibition steamed into the Angel Centre, Tonbridge, and - as usual - Rachel and I were in attendance.

Because of a crowded weekend timetable, we got there early when the designated rooms were at their most crowded, and full of the funk of the great unwashed, but we still managed to get a good look round (although, for once, we barely glanced at the traders - instead concentrating on the displays).

There appeared to be a a bias towards more industrial layouts this year, much to Rachel's chagrin as she prefers - like her own Midale - the more rural settings. In fact she went so far as to label industrial themed layouts as simply "wrong".

Personally I'm drawn more to the cityscapes and industrial layouts because of the air of decay and rust that hangs over the more detailed ones and thus speaks to my own model-making proclivities (i.e. post-apocalyptic ruins for the most part).

That said, one of my favourite layouts - which we have seen before - is Schlob Wolfental (pictured above), a mountainous Bavarian setting, representing the early 1920s, which features an eye-catching castle (converted into a hotel).

Nick and Clare visited the exhibition later in the day and Nick commented on the large number of model boats and ships that were included in many of the layouts. He was particularly taken with Fulton Terminal, an HO gauge layout, representing a port in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1970s.

More of my pictures can be found in my Facebook album here.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Week In Geek (second helping)...

A second helping of geeky news you might have otherwise missed....

(1) Seventh Doctor Materialises: Character Options is finally bringing out a 5" action figure of the Seventh Doctor - complete with an Imperial Dalek.

(2) Free City Free: Gaming blogger Christian Walker is very generously making his Freecity of Haldane supplement for Labyrinth Lord available in print for free, although a donation would be nice!

(3) Super Playtesters Sought: Misfit Studios is looking for Mutants & Masterminds players to test drive their new Superlink rules supplements.

(4) Gordon's Alive! Director Breck Eisner's planned Flash Gordon movie will be closer to the original comic strips... and in 3D.

(5) Evil Wil Returns: 'Evil' Wil Wheaton is to make a welcome return to The Big Bang Theory as Sheldon's nemesis.

(6) Gamera Gets Loose: May 18 sees the release of Gamera, The Giant Monster – Special Edition, the first time the Japanese monster movie has been released in its original unedited format, with English subtitles.

(7) Win A Genuine (Piece Of A) Stargate: io9 is giving its readers the chance to get their hands on a piece of the Pegasus Galaxy Stargate from Stargate Atlantis.

(8) Kenson Talks ICONS: Mutants & Masterminds guru Steve Kenson spills the beans on his new superhero roleplaying game, ICONS.

(9) One Week Left: Only a week to go until the deadline for the 2010 One Page Dungeon Contest. Oh, and also only a week left to get your votes in on the HeroPress Master poll...

(10) Avatar Misses Out At BAFTAs: This weekends' BAFTAs were dominated by Iraqi war film The Hurt Locker, rather than sci-fi epic Avatar, which only took two technical awards.

(11) Million Dollar Comic: A copy of Action #1, the first appearance of Superman, from 1938, has reportedly been sold for $1,000,000.

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Post-Apocalyptic Partnership: Radioactive Ape Designs has teamed up with Cubicle 7 in a partnership that will see their popular Mad Max-style role-playing pdf Atomic Highway released in print form this June.

(2) Savage 2010: Sean Preston teases Reality Blurs' Savage Worlds-related plans for this year. Nice to see Ravaged Earth getting a makeover - that was one ugly looking book!

(3) Day Of The Comic: A preview of the Day Of The Dead comic that will accompany the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release of George Romero's Day Of The Dead.

(4) Behind The Screams - Episode 3: The first part of the Emily Booth's behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Brit zombie flick Doghouse.

(5) Is It A (Nerdy) Bird, Is It A Plane...: Fellow blogger The Nerdy Bird shares her impressions of the DC Comics' offices after a recent tour.

(6) Super-Musical Prepares To Take Flight: An updated version of an old Superman musical is to take to the stage in June.

(7) Take Megan Fox Home: Action figures to promote the new Western movie Jonah Hex have been unveiled, including a Megan Fox figure in her 'soiled dove' costume.

(8) Most Desirable Doll On Mars: Check out this very appealing £61, 12" Dejah Thoris action figure (from John Carter of Mars) coming from Triad in the first quarter of this year.

(9) The French Are Coming: The bestselling Asterix In Britain is heading to the silver screen.

(10) Get Your Grind On: A new documentary is being made about the history of grindhouse cinema and exploitation movies.

(11) A New Way To Follow The Doctor (in The UK): Classic episodes of Doctor Who are now available (in the UK) via a new online service called Seesaw.

(12) Against The Clock: Armageddon Hour is a new, solo game (available in pdf) from Ganesha Games that gives an hour (in real time) to beat the mutant bad guys before their boss triggers a bomb.

(13) Fox Back In Age Of Dinosaurs: Fox has recruited Steven Spielbergto bring some time-travelling dino-magic to its sci-fi new series Terra Nova.

(14) Joss Whedon Wants You! Joss Whedon is supposedly working on a Comic-Con centred documentary about superfans.

(15) Young (Cyber)Punk Kicks Ass: Live-action short Frame 137 brings Crow creator Mike Barr's Dark Horse Presents strip to life.

(16) Cop An Eyeful Of Frandor's Keep: Watch Jolly Blackburn's 'flip-thru' of forthcoming Hackmaster adventure setting Frandor's Keep, from Kenzer. Drink in the plentiful maps and great artwork.

(17) Bring The JSA To Your Desktop: Download a scan of the JSA painting by artist Rodolfo Milgliari which appeared in the recent Smallville: Absolute Justice TV movie.

(18) Interactive D&D: Zephri on the Tombworld blog plans to host a poll after every session of her new Dungeons & Dragons campaign for readers to decide what opponents her players will face next.

(19) Playing Games With Porn Stars: The popular Escapist website is about to get a whole lot more popular when it starts running a weekly online reality show following an ongoing D&D campaign involving stars of the adult movie industry.

(20) More Love For Island, Alone: Crave Online has made Island, Alone the subject of its first Zuda Comics Spotlight column. Remember, you only have until Thursday (February 25) to vote for this fine title on Zuda.

(21) Free Worldwide Shipping: Rising stars in the plastic and metal fantasy miniatures field, Mantic Games, is currently offering free shipping anywhere in the world until midnight Sunday, February 28.

(22) New Hobbit Hole Found: The publishers of the eagerly anticipated old school Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox set, Brave Halfling Publishing, has a new website.

(23) Knockspell In Stores: With issue 5 onwards, the Swords & Wizardry magazine, Knockspell, will be available in bricks and mortar games stores.

(24) Conan Of Lemuria: New 'barbarian gaming'-themed blog Vargold: The Wolf-Time offers statistics for using Robert E Howard's Conan with the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

(25) Is There Nothing This Man Can't Do? Geoff Johns reacts to his appointment as Chief Creative Officer of the DC Universe.

(26) RPGs Can Make You A Good Writer: Successful authors reminisce about the influence of Dungeons & Dragons on their lives.

(27) Nom Nom Nom: Daring Entertainment is about to begin publishing - via RPG.com - it's year-long, weekly zompocalypse campaign for Savage Worlds, War Of The Dead.

(28) Drow In A Box: Øone Games is now offering a virtual 'box set' of maps, some exclusive to the set, of a complete drow city - "the most dangerous, deep, mysterious and fascinating underground settlement ever mapped" - for your roleplaying enjoyment.

(29) Jeff's Looking For Pulp: The Evil DM, aka Jeff Mejia, is inviting submissions of pulp adventure story ideas for his forthcoming Barbarians Of Lemuria-driven pulp gaming supplement.

The Time Traveller's Companion...



What a weekend this has been for Doctor Who fans!

Not only has the BBC screened its new one minute trailer (see below) for the new season (starting at Easter) with Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor (an advert clearly designed with its 3D use in cinemas in mind) - but Game Geeks has done a great video review of Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space (see above) and publishers Cubicle 7 has released details of its next supplement for the game.
The Time Traveller's Companion, due out in June, is another beautiful-looking £24.99 box set which "gives more information on Time Lords, temporal mechanics and time machines.
"It also takes an in-depth look at earth's important role in time and space, covering prehistory to the 51st Century - a vital aid for running historical campaigns at any time in Earth's colourful history."


To be frank I was totally underwhelmed by the trailer; all flash and no substance and no indication of how Matt or Karen are going to play their players. This was so obviously geared entirely towards its 3D potential with lots of whoosh and 'hey, look at me', but no insights of any any depth into what we have to look forward to at Easter.

Whilst it may 'wow' younger viewers, I can't see that anyone over the age of 10 can have got any greater satisfaction than simply seeing - and hearing - The Doctor and Amy Pond speaking (some pretty hackneyed) dialogue. I sincerely hope this isn't a sign of things to come, as I have high hopes for Matt Smith's tenure in the TARDIS...

Sunday, 21 February 2010

(Animated) DVD Of The Week: Justice League - Crisis On Two Earths (2010)

It must be Easter because it's way too early to be my birthday or Christmas and Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths is jam-packed with squee-worthy Easter Eggs for DC fanboys and girls everywhere.

A heroic Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) from a parallel Earth (Earth-2) pops over to the main DC Universe, Earth-1, to warn the Justice League about The Crime Syndicate, an evil organisation - a dark, twisted reflection of the Justice League - is poised to take over this world.

While Batman (William Baldwin) stays on the Justice League satellite to oversee completion of its construction, his colleagues, including such power houses as Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) and Green Lantern (Nolan North), follow Luthor back to Earth-2... and are immediately thrown into a running battle with the Crime Syndicate.

While Ultraman (Brian Bloom) may be the counter-Superman, it is the 'evil Batman' analogue Owlman (James Woods) who proves the biggest threat to both Earth-1 and Earth-2... and eventually the entire Multiverse.

Supremely cunning and intelligent, his nihilistic ambitions go way beyond simply constructing a superweapon to hold the governments of his Earth hostage, thus handing the Crime Syndicate total global domination.

Dwayne McDuffie's script is full of cameos from well-known (and not-so-well-known) faces from the DC Universe and a lot of fun is gained simply from playing 'spot the character', as most aren't even mentioned by name. Highlights include Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke) as the President of The United States and his spunky daughter Rose (aka Ravager on Earth-1).

Colour me dense for not realising until afterwards that Superwoman (Gina Torres) was actually Mary Batson (aka Mary Marvel) and not the anti-Wonder Woman.

This is not to say the story is perfect. There's a cringe-worthy "what is this thing you Earth people call 'kissing'" moment between the Martian Manhunter and Rose Wilson while the ultimate resolution of the Earth-2 situation makes you wonder why the people of that planet never took that course of action before.

And I couldn't decide if James Patrick Stuart was playing the Crime Syndicate's Johnny Quick - their version of The Flash - as either a stereotypical Cockney or a stereotypical Australian. But either way, he was quite grating.

The final showdown between 'our' Batman and Owlman on Earth-Prime, however, is real edge of the seat stuff with some of the best dialogue from the whole film, although its depiction of the location didn't quite gel with my own understanding of Earth-Prime (this was presumably way in the future of that reality).

Part of me had kind of hoped the animators would have used real-world, live-action footage for the backgrounds (like when Homer Simpson fell through a hole in space-time and ended up wandering into a cake shop on 'our' Earth).

But I guess that might have looked a bit silly in execution and probably undermined the serious verisimilitude of Crisis On Two Earths!

Minor quibbles aside, what makes this two-disc DVD set such a 'must have' is the treasure trove of extra features, including:

* a 12-minute Spectre animation, which is a really dark and not your typical 'superhero' material. It also makes you realise what a great live-action, film noir/horror (possibly even black and white) film could be made of this character and his human alter ego Jim Corrigan.

* a quarter of an hour 'first look' at this Summer's Batman: Under The Red Hood animated movie which tells the story of the arrival of violent vigilante The Red Hood (Supernatural's Jensen Ackles) in Gotham and his connection with Batman's greatest failure, the death of the second Robin - Jason Todd - at the hand of The Joker.

* a couple of Justice League episodes chosen by producer Bruce Timm.

* a half-hour documentary on the creation of the DC Universe (both in reality and in the comics), the various Crisis events over the years, the impact of 9/11 etc.

DVD Of The Week: Hero Tomorrow (2007)

In these cynical times, there is something very admirable about a film that genuinely defies expectations.

When I first learned the story of Hero Tomorrow - aspiring comic book artist decides to dress up as his creation and fight crime - I'll admit I was expecting a mash-up of Clerks and Kick-Ass.

But first time director Ted Sikora's small-budget Don Quixotesque tale is much more than 'just another comic book' story, combining social satire with subtle observation and tragedy, while retaining strong elements of a love story throughout.

Set in contemporary Cleveland, it revolves around work-shy waster David (Perren Hedderson), a grass-smoking artist who believes his comic book creation, Apama, is going to make his fortune.

Sleeping in the basement of a house his boss - and best friend - shares with his model train collecting father, David is thousands of dollars in debt, unable (or unwilling) to pay rent or for food, but still manages to keep up with his weekly comic book fix.

Meanwhile his lovely, patient girlfriend Robyn (Jocelyn Wrzoek), who works in the comic shop but is trying to make it in the world of fashion design, creates an Apama costume for David to wear to a Halloween party, much to the wry amusement of her hypercritical mother.

What no-one seems to appreciate - David least of all - is that his so-called 'heroic' costume makes him look more like a disturbed member of Slipknot than a friendly, neighbourhood superhero.

So when David's life takes a rapid dive into the toilet it isn't long before the Lycra-clad crimefighter is running round the woodlands and streets of Cleveland beating on 'villains', both real and imaginary.

Mixing in flashbacks and surreal dream sequences (the one with the squid knocked me for six), Sikora clearly embraces the art house as much as the comic book for his inspiration and there is no denying the fact that this is a good-looking film.

Given its budgetary limitations, some of the acting is possibly not of the highest calibre, but these limitations only really show themselves in a small number of the supporting characters. The two main leads are interesting and talented enough to keep your attention focused on the story and allow you to gloss over the moments of more stilted delivery.

There's an unexpected twist towards the end that almost demands you watch the movie a second time to "see if it works". It's not exactly a mind-blowing WTF twist of Fight Club proportions, but more a knowing nod and a smile that says: "You didn't see that coming, did ya?"

But even this brief synopsis doesn't do Hero Tomorrow justice. There is so much going on under the surface that it certainly fulfills Sikora's claim that it is a "punk rock version of the big budget superhero film".

It may not dot all its i's or cross all it's t's, but where logic takes a leap of faith, enthusiasm and passion step in to fill the gap as it moves from comedy territory into the darker realms of tragedy and mental deterioration.

Forget any prejudices you may have against "low budget" film making and embrace the wacky romantic vision of a future big name writer/director.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Record Of Lodoss War: Chronicles of The Heroic Knight (part one)...

Having, hopefully, introduced a few of you to the joys of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Record Of Lodoss War anime (or, at very least, reminded you of its awesomeness), I now present for your edification the first part of the sequel, Chronicles of The Heroic Knight, which is basically the further adventures of Parn, the hero of the first tale.

It was a 27-part story, shown originally on Japanese television, starting in 1998.

There's quite a lengthy - and annoying - title sequence on the film, before the actual anime begins, but it's worth it to see the episode in a single 25-minute block, rather than multiple YouTube edits. Unlike the previous Lodoss War episodes I've shown you, this isn't dubbed, but is in the original Japanese, with subtitles.

This week's Saturday Morning Matinee is presented as a link to a site, where the episode can be viewed in full-screen mode, rather than the usual embedded clips, by the way.

Ladies & Gentlemen, It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's...

Grab yourself a brew, pull up a chair and share some quality time with the latest recruits to the HeroPress superteam. I can highly recommend you check out their websites as they touch on three of the HeroPress essentials - roleplaying games, comics and action figures.

* The Dan Of Steel of comic book blog It's A Dan's World.

* Bubbashelby of Toyriffic.

* CinderellaMan of Back to (Role-Playing Game) Basics.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hulk Smash Planetary Romance!!!

There is an undeniable John Carter Of Mars vibe about Planet Hulk - an Earthman (albeit a gamma-irradiated one) finds himself fighting for his life on a 'primitive' alien world and carves a name for himself as a hero.

There's even plenty of four-armed natives, as well as the "Red King" and his more human-like species, to complete the Edgar Rice Burroughs homage.

And Hulk even gets the girl at the end!

This latest Marvel animated movie adapts Greg Pak's storyline from the other year into a neat little 68 minute package and doesn't waste any time getting into the meat of the story.

The action begins in media res with the Hulk already imprisoned on a spaceship, exiled from Earth by a coterie of our finest superheroes (including Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four).

He is supposed to be heading for a lush planet without any intelligent life where he could live out an idyllic, peaceful life - but venting his fury against the spacecraft causes it to crash on the hard, desert world of Sakaar, where he is immediately captured by the natives and sold into slavery, to fight as a gladiator.

Although his mood swings from rage-fueled violence to apathy, a small group of gladiators form a bond with the Hulk, who the natives begin to believe is a prophesied messiah figure - much to the chagrin of the tyrannical Red King.

While the plot unfolds in a very predictable manner, Planet Hulk still manages to slip in - almost subtly - one of the most powerful and shocking moments I have yet seen in this on-going series of animated comic book adaptations.

I subsequently discovered - from viewing the 'making of..' documentary on the DVD - that this was a scene in the original comics and I'm glad the film makers decided to keep it in because it certainly brought a lump of 'did that really just happen?' to my throat.

Much of the action of the story revolves around the gladiatorial arena and it's always fun to spot who gets slipped into the crowd scenes - I'm sure I spotted a skrull and at least three members of The Guardians Of The Galaxy (Gamora, Star-Lord and Adam Warlock). I'm hoping this is a subliminal hint that they are going to be the subject of a future animated movie! How cool would that be?

I'm never quite sure if these movies are meant to stand alone or whether they are forging their own continuity; the fact that Beta Ray Bill remarks to Hulk that he has heard of his rampage in Asgard suggests the latter as it alludes to his battle with Thor in Hulk Vs.

It also sets things up nicely for a future World War Hulk movie, should Marvel choose to animate the jolly green giant's return to Earth.

My Life And Roleplaying: Changing The Rules (part two: My Fantasy Heartbreaker)...

Never content with the status quo, I had to keep messing around with my Atlantis roleplaying setting (as discussed yesterday), but eventually decided what was really needed was a total overhaul of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

This was late 1989 and I'd got hold of a copy of the The Arduin Adventure (the rules set that came out after the original Arduin Trilogy of unofficial OD&D supplements and got me rereading my beloved Trilogy) and while I wasn't completely taken with this new system there was enough there to make me think "wait a minute, I could do something with this..."

The Atlantis name was immediately shelved and the new game setting was renamed Arduin (in honour of the Dave Hargrave's campaign setting). I also added a city of Blackmoor in the campaign as a tip of the hat to Dave Arneson.

Basically the first thing I did was strip out all the combat tables and introduce a "attack" and "defence" ratings for all characters (both scores went up with experience levels - fighters the fastest and wizards the slowest, of course) and made combat a simple die roll against the Attacker's ATT rating minus the Defender's DEF rating.

ATT rating started at 10, DEF started at 1.

Armour in this system absorbed damage.

Saving roles were based on a simple formula: 1/2 (STAT + Level); where the Statistic was dependent on the type of save (e.g. Poison used Constitution; breath & gaze attacks used Dexterity; spells used Intelligence; and fear saves used Wisdom).

This time round Hit Points started off at 4e-type levels with characters receiving a big kicker depending on their character class (and there were 16 classes - more on this later), plus a bonus of 1 HP for every point of Constitution over 12, plus their FULL Constitution score (i.e. points over 12 effectively count double).

However, increasing your level only increased your hit points by one point - fighters, thieves, barbarians etc got a point per level, multi-classed characters, beast masters, bards etc got one every two levels and triple-classed characters and hobbits got a point every three levels.

There was no player character magic in this version of Arduin (I was on a big downer on PC magic at the time for some reason), but available character classes included: ranger, buccaneer, paladin, gladiator, gunslinger, knight, beast master, swordsman, warrior, bard, harlequin, spy, thief, barbarian, martial artist and hobbit.

The new classes - compared to the old Atlantis era houserules - all came from a generic roleplaying supplement I had at the time, which I thought may have been Talislanta but now I'm not so sure. These were pretty much copied verbatim from whatever the source was.

Available races covered the same territory as the Atlantis setting, but added half-ogres and ducks - not for any particular Runequest vibe, but because I was a big fan of Steve Gerber's Howard The Duck comic.

All the original classes pretty much got an Arduin-flavoured makeover as I condensed all the various skill packages different classes got into a 1-20 scale (emulating the Secondary Skill idea that was covered earlier in the week). These skills, however, could be increased with skill poinst gained when a character went up a level.

It was this version of my houserules that expanded the original systems for fleshing out a character's backstory (e.g. secondary skills, social background, literacy etc). I've never had a problem with characters having a few skills listed on their sheets - but I could never get my head around the idea of every character having 10 or 20 skills that all needed bookkeeping.

There was a manna-point magic system drawn up for the game, but scrapped before I began playtesting. There were notes on the two styles of magic in Arduin - the mystical/psychic approach known as animism or shamanism, as used by clerics, druids, rangers and paladins; and the more obvious power of mages, illusionists and some bards to shape matter with their inborn mutant abilities.

The two branches of magic were inspired by a clever, rules-lite system that Nick created called 'The Four Moon' System, which I seem to remember he published on four pages of A5.

The Arduin houserules/rewrite was certainly used in a few playest games (I still have Steve's two character sheets for Jackdaw the elf Bard and Sevled Stormblade the human ranger and Nick's thief character Hugh The Cook), but I don't remember it going much further.

Unlike the Atlantis edition, these were never published for player consumption and only remain as loose leaf pages in a binder.

I'm pretty sure there were some germs of good ideas in there. I've already presented some of my house rules to you this week and I'm hoping my article on "Money And What To Do With It" (ie. parting the player-characters from their hard-earned cash through living expenses, taxes etc) will be appearing in a future issue of Fight On!, the premier Old School Renaissance gaming magazine.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

My Life And Roleplaying: Changing The Rules...

When Rachel and I were packing up a year or so ago, ahead of our big move, we came across some of my old family board games.

Inside one of the boxes was a hand-written sheet of 'house rules' for the game that Gublin and I had drawn up to "make the game more exciting".

Tinkering with games is just part of the geek gene, I guess!

Possibly my biggest houseruling effort came in the late '80s at the height of our Golden Age of roleplaying.

We had a fairly large gaming group going at the time, meeting in a house coincidentally just round the corner (a few hundred yards away) from where Rachel and I now live.

Our hosts were a great gaming couple - Mark and Benedicta (aka Benny) - who even encouraged their young daughter, Emily (who was four at the time) to play sometimes - obviously in a limited capacity (we didn't want her showing the rest of us up!).

Other members of the group were Richard, Dave, Seb and Rob as well as future Tuesday Knights members Nick, Pete and Steve.

My houserule booklet, for a campaign I imaginatively called 'Atlantis' (apparently following a brief conversation with Pete) was a 54-page A4 booklet (the introduction of which is printed above - this is from my 'master copy' where I marked up all the errors that would need correcting for the second printing), which was published in January 1988.

The campaign background drew heavily on a game I'd run in my last years at Grammar school (and in which the 'future Tuesday Knights' and several other school friends had played, using a semi-postal campaign system), which in turn was based primarily on a BBC Radio serial called Hordes Of The Things (which is now - at last - available on CD and is as funny today as it was when I first heard it, taped it and transcribed all the names phonetically into my gaming notebooks).

Although quite extensive, these rules were little more than hacks for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game we played most of the time (between Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes, The Fantasy Trip etc)

Outside of the radio play, major inspirations for the campaign were cited as Stephen King's The Gunslinger (yes, I included a "gunslinger" character class, which I will write up in due course), Slaine from 2000AD (certain barbarian characters were able to tap into the 'warp spasm' when they went berserk), Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign and Empire Of The Petal Throne.

Example rules included starting first level characters with maximum hit points, plus a 'kicker' of 10 hit points and a recovery rate of "half Constitution" in hit points for a good night's rest.

Metal armour was very expensive here and so fighters had a chance of 'inheriting' a suit of ring, scale or chain mail. Paladins had a better chance and could inherit up to splint, banded or plate mail.

The basic 'rounding out your character' rules (e.g. social background, literacy etc) from yesterday were also included, but not the random secondary skills or bonus fighter skills.

As well as the traditional AD&D character races, player characters could be lizardmen (I think I'd probably just read Quag Keep) or centaurs (this was a hangover from our school game where one player was a noble centaur and got tangled up in tribal politics).

Character classes on offer included (again, supplementing the usual AD&D classes and sub-classes): beastmaster (from an old fanzine, the name of which I've forgotten), gunslinger, variant bard (from The Dragon #56), the houri (from White Dwarf #13) and a variant hobbit/halfing (playing the 'old school' race as class card from an article in the February 1981 issue of Different Worlds).

After several pages on the various countries in "The Land"; an excellent article on the astrology of Atlantis, by Nick (which I continued to use right up to The Tuesday Knights' first Castles & Crusades campaign the other year); and an article on religion; there was a section on a tarn racing mini-game.

Tarns were, of course, the giant birds that inhabit Gor in John Norman's book series of the same name (and were a big deal during our final school years). Steve had created a racing game - separate from any role-playing system - for use at our school gaming club. I took this and modified it slightly (see, tinkering again!) to tie it into my Atlantis campaign.

The rest of the book was taken up with photocopied articles from various sources: OD&D's aerial and naval combat rules; an AD&D snooker simulation system from Imagine magazine (January 1984); various feudal charts and lists from Chivalry & Sorcery; a couple of articles on handling madness and random insanity (one from the Dragon and one from Different Worlds); a White Dwarf article on AD&D jousting; and a brilliant piece from Different Worlds (September 1982) on handling player-character pregnancy in RPGs.

The back page was a very basic map of Atlantis, drawn by own fair hand.

For almost two years this stood us in good stead as our campaign background, until I had a major brainstorm and decided to completely rewrite the rules of AD&D in late 1989.

To be continued...

Operator Please - Logic


Logic - the new single from the soon-to-released second album, Gloves, by top Aussie band Operator Please, who gave us the greatest song ever written - Just A Song About Ping Pong.

Pity the megacute keyboard player Sarah Gardiner left the band (some scandal about pornographic pictures!)

Supernatural: Free To Be You And Me

After last week Sam and Dean have gone their separate ways. Turning his back on the hunting lifestyle, Sam takes a job as a busboy at an out-of-the-way bar while Dean is enjoying himself as a single hunter again after so many years.

Castiel enlists Dean's help in tracking and capturing the archangel who 'killed him', Raphael (Demore Barnes), who he believes will be able to give him crucial information on the whereabouts of God. Unfortunately, what he eventually reveals isn't quite the answer Castiel was looking for.

Meanwhile Sam has attracted the attention of an inquisitive barmaid (Emma Bell), who is determined to get to the bottom of the enigma that is Sam Winchester; however Sam is seeing demonic portents all around and calls Bobby to send for some other hunters to come and deal with the problem.

Unfortunately that, too, doesn't quite go as planned.

A powerful episode from scriptwriter Jeremy Carver, Free To Be You And Me has a number of memorably classic scenes from Dean taking Cas to a brothel, and the manifestation of Raphael through to Sam's first face-to-face encounter with Lucifer.

As a major Castiel fan, I was particularly entertained by the great partnership of him and Dean. We've never really seen his total lack of humour demonstrated so effectively or his ability to switch into full terrifying angel mode at the drop of a hat. He also brought out the 'fun side' of Dean, which the darkness of the last run of episodes has kept hidden under a bushel.

At first when Dean talks about ensuring that Cas doesn't die a virgin (Cas thinks confronting an angel of Raphael's magnitude could have fatal consequences for him... again) I thought it was rather cheesy, and almost inappropriate (although totally in character for Dean), but the subsequent scenes were so uncomfortably amusing that I realised I was wrong to doubt the writer's judgement.

This episode kept the momentum of the season's main story going even though the Winchester brothers were miles apart and didn't even speak to each other during the hour.

Next week:



* The news came through this week that the CW has officially given the green light for a Sixth Season of Supernatural coupled with the fact that Eric Kripke is handing over the showrunning reins to Sera Gamble at the end of Season Five.

I remain in two minds about all this (for reasons I've already stated), but am interested to see how this season finishes off now and if any changes will be made to the planned finale in light of these new revelations.
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